Regional Report: Future of Workforce

Published: 11/19/2020
Updated: 04/11/2024

To address the rapid advancements of technology and industry, educational institutions in Greater Phoenix, beginning at the high school level, are developing new curriculum based on recommendations from corporate leaders to train students in specialized fields.

Four local experts joined our regional report to discuss developments in the future of workforce and how we can anticipate and plan for the jobs of tomorrow.

“We as a community need to do a much better job of understanding the careers that are phasing out and what are the skills that those people have that can be transferred and translated to a new career,” said Mary Foote, managing director of Pipeline AZ. “Because we are failing people if we tell them they can get an education, they go on a career pathway and then we just leave them forever.”

Panelists include:

In 2019, Intel approached Maricopa County Community Colleges District, which runs 10 community colleges in Greater Phoenix, with a proposition.

The Chandler-based company was looking to expand and adapt its artificial intelligence program that it operates in Singapore. The program, which was initially third grade curriculum in the southeast Asian country, aims to make technology more accessible globally by 2030 to close the digital divide.

Intel thought MCCCD’s robust student population could be of assistance with such developments.

“Obviously (Intel has) a massive production facility in the East Valley, but more importantly, AI requires individual human mind to associate with machines and data. If you only have certain kinds of people, or only certain populations informing that translation of the human mind into machine learning, you’re only going to get a portion of what you need,” Renfro said.

“Diversity is a hugely important component of building something out that requires artificial intelligence that you can apply into machine learning and then deeper learning of multi-layered networks that take all kinds of data from all kinds of sectors and pulls it together.”

MCCCD serves 220,000 students, the majority of which are Latino and more than half are first-generation college students, Renfro said.

“You’re creating it while you’re learning it, and those diversity viewpoints are going to be super important,” Renfro said.

As careers move toward automation, companies in sectors including technology, advanced manufacturing and healthcare are looking to hire employees with very specialized skill sets. MCCCD’s program with Intel is one example of the district’s push to proactively engage with employers and use that as a base for new curriculum models for its students.

MCCCD has been making an effort to “re-skill” or “upskill” people interested in these fields, whether they currently have a job or are unemployed, to make them more hirable for employers. The district is also focusing on micro-certifications in which students can get credentialed in a specific area without taking an entire college course, thus making it quicker to learn the topic and land a job with the specialized skill.

“The gig economy, remote work, all these things have pushed us so much more quickly into this phase of disruption than I think any of us anticipated,” Renfro said.

“We’re looking at 50% of the work tasks that are being performed today will be automated. That’s a lot of jobs across the country that are going to be displaced as a result of that automation. We identified the opportunity of the demand gap and some of the issues that we needed to focus on to try to help be more prepared … for this next phase of the economy.”

This isn’t exclusively for those actively seeking employment. At the high school level, the Phoenix Union High School District is continuing to advance its innovative curriculum with a broad range of options for students.

In addition to its 21 high schools, the district runs schools including the Phoenix Coding Academy, Academies at South Mountain and PXU Digital Academy.

Coding Academy opened in 2016 with a focus on networking, cybersecurity and software development courses for its students. South Mountain focuses on finding specific pathways for students, Camp said.

The Digital Academy, which was the district’s first Arizona Online Instruction school, allowed Phoenix Union to get ahead of the curve during school shutdowns caused by the coronavirus.

Phoenix Union partnered with the Greater Phoenix Chamber Foundation to better connect with businesses and learn what would best suit students for future career opportunities, and help them get find internship opportunities in a variety of fields.

“With the connections to business and industry, students at the Academies at South Mountain, Phoenix Coding Academy and eventually other schools will benefit from aligned enhancement to the industry opportunities and degrees that we’re connecting,” Camp said.

Among these was connecting Mayo Clinic to the Phoenix Coding Academy to create curriculum based off biomedical equipment technology and other related fields.

“Students never knew this profession ever existed,” Camp said. “Our students just don’t know certain careers exist with that silver tsunami of industries that are in high need of skilled and prepared applicants.” 

One thing Camp has noticed is partners in the professional field tell his district that students may not remember what they learned, but they will remember how to better communicate.

These lessons in in communication aren’t just for students. Even employees at the University of Phoenix are going through new internal training programs as the university recognizes the increased importance of effective communication, particularly as COVID-19 forced a shift to remote work.

Headquartered in Greater Phoenix and known for revolutionizing online adult learning, the University of Phoenix employs roughly 4,500 faculty members. It launched programs to help facilitate communication both within its leadership circles, and between leadership and the rest of the staff.

Its leadership training program, called LEAD, has development courses including a 12-week session on virtual leadership and LinkedIn learning courses to connect with different leaders in the network.

“The job of a leader has gotten really hard, especially remotely now,” Fink said. “Learning needs and wants have grown exponentially and how we deliver that has definitely changed. Where do we need more training for people? It may not be something employees … or leaders recognize they need.”

Employees ranging from entry-level to executives are encouraged to take courses, but the catalog is overwhelming with more than 8,000 choices. University of Phoenix launched My Development, which splits these long-terms tasks into a quarterly schedule with themed topics, course of the month recommendations and a LinkedIn Live course club.

The university aims to improve employee engagement to address stress that accumulates while working at home during the pandemic and retain employees long-term.

“The workforce of the future looks very different than the workforce that we are currently in right now today, and we’re all doing our part to get everybody ready for that,” Fink said.

Pipeline AZ is working to help through its online program that connects employers and job seekers. Those looking for work create a profile that lists out their skills, and the program’s algorithm matches the person to jobs while also revealing skill gaps in the resume that the job seeker may need to fill.

Those looking for a job are assigned career coaches that help them complete their profile, add skills and make sure the system has all the information it needs to find a job match.

More than 11,000 people use the site right now.

Pipeline AZ’s partners include both MCCCD and University of Phoenix.

“We’re not as connected a workforce as we should be,” Foote said. “We know that in the future, everything’s based around skills — not the jobs you’re had, not the job title you’re looking for. What are the skills that you have? Where do you want to go in your pathway, and what are the skills that are going to get you there?”

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